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Some of the 16 "Silent Witnesses" that stood in the Manitoba legislature on Friday morning. ((CBC))

"Silent witnesses"were brought tothe Manitoba legislature Friday morning to honour the memory of women who have been murdered by their domestic partners.

The 16 red, life-sized, free-standing wood silhouettes represent women who were killed by a spouse, boyfriend or intimate acquaintance.

Organizers behind the Silent Witness project, now in its second year, erected five new silhouettes in a memorial ceremony Friday morning.

Fifteen of the silhouettes represent women whose identities were made public with their families' permission. One silhouette represents all women who continue to be in violent relationships or have committed suicide because of domestic abuse.

Manitoba has the highest spousal abuse and homicide rate in the country, said organizer Bernice Getty, executive director of the North End Women's Centre in Winnipeg.

In Winnipeg, about 15,000 domestic violence calls are made every year, Getty said Friday, with 12,000 calls coming from the North End. About 3,000 charges are laid as a result of those calls, she added.

"It's not isolated incidents. These are our family, our friends, our neighbours, our sisters, our daughters, our mothers. … these were people who lived and breathed. They're not just statistics," Getty said.

"I want people to understand that we need as a federal government to look at changing areas of legislation and investing more into family violence prevention programming.

Stricter prison terms

Noreen Cropp, whose daughter Veronicawasstrangled to deathby herestranged spouseon Valentine's Day two years ago, said if she could speak with federal Justice Minister VicToews, she would call for stricter prison terms for those who commit domestic violence.

"I mean… a complete eight years is what the man got for killing my daughter. It was a brutal murder, and he can walk. I don't know when, but I mean next year, he can be out on parole," Cropp said at the demonstration.

"This isn't fair. She had a daughter …"

On Thursday, Manitoba Family Services and Housing Minister Gord Mackintosh unveiled the "At the Roots" fund, which aims to help children who are exposed to violence in the home.

Funds for counselling

The $175,000 fund will besplit amongfive community programs that will offer counselling and sharing circles for children. One of the programs will deal with children under the age of five.

Mackintosh acknowledged that in the past, government programs have focused on the adult victims of domestic violence.

"But it is time now to also focus on those who are exposed to domestic violence and who are also victimized, but in the broader sphere.And that is the children in the family," Mackintosh said Thursday.

"Domestic violence not only affects the direct victim of the violence, but the whole family and the children. And it's being passed on then as a learned behaviour."

Mackintosh said the new fund will also pay for an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the effects of domestic violence on children.

The "Silent Witness" silhouettes were packed up following Friday's memorial, but the public can see them again at the Manitoba legislature on Dec. 6, the day set aside to commemorate the Montreal Massacre.

On that date in1989, gunman Marc Lepine stormed an engineering class at Montreal's l'École Polytechnique, killing 14 women andwounding 13 others, mostly women, before committing suicide. Lepine, 25, hadproclaimed thathe was getting even because feminists had ruined his life.

November is Domestic ViolencePrevention Month in Manitoba.